Monday, September 13, 2010

Sacramento County wants public-private partnership to help the homeless
Sacramento County wants public-private partnership to help the homeless

Published Monday, Sep. 13, 2010

Sacramento County no longer wants to coordinate the area's homeless programs and plans to turn over that task to a new organization to be made up of government and private stakeholders.

The county will be out of money for homeless services by the end of February, officials said, and is scrambling to come up with funds to operate programs through 2011.

In the meantime, it is pushing forward with a plan to form a nonprofit group or joint powers authority that would pursue government grants, raise money in the private sector and distribute millions of dollars to agencies that serve the homeless.

The approach could save money and deliver services more efficiently, said some of those involved in the planning process.

But "it's a little scary," said Tim Brown, director of Sacramento Steps Forward, which focuses on finding permanent housing for homeless families. "It's a huge change, and it's happening very fast. We're not aware of anybody who has made this radical a transition this quickly."

Officials from the county Department of Human Assistance will present their plan to the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, and they want to embark on the project immediately. The new organization could be running by next June, they said.

Until now, the county has been in charge of securing and distributing $19 million to $29 million annually for homeless programs, including shelter beds, permanent housing units and the homeless census. Most of the money comes from the federal government.

But in the midst of a budget crisis, the county no longer has the staffing and resources for such coordination, said human assistance director Paul Lake. Without a new plan, the Sacramento area could lose millions of federal dollars and critical programs, he said.

"The situation has changed, and we need to find another solution," said Lake.

The new concept grew out of discussions with service providers, faith leaders, private business people and city and county government officials as the county's yawning budget deficit forced cuts across the board, including to homeless programs. Last year, for example, the county ended its winter shelter program at Cal Expo, forcing social services groups to find alternative places for homeless people to spend cold and rainy nights.

"The current system is not sustainable. We need a public and private partnership with as many stakeholders as we can get," said Anne Moore, Mayor Kevin Johnson's homeless liaison. Johnson has declared the homeless issue one of his priorities.

"We need to build a strong infrastructure that will extend far into the future with the ultimate goal of ending homelessness," said Moore.

An event earlier this year proved that the issue resonates with the public, Moore said. More than 80 houses of worship participated in a "One Day to End Homelessness" campaign, which raised $400,000 to pay for housing for 600 families. The new organization would use similar tactics to raise money to supplement dwindling government funding, she and others said.

In a handful of cities and counties around the country, homeless prevention programs, shelters, housing and other services are overseen by private entities made up of community leaders, said Lake. Columbus, Ohio, is one of those cities, and a contingent from Sacramento met with members of its nationally recognized Community Shelter Board recently in a trip funded by Sierra Health Foundation.

"With a nonprofit, we can do things more cheaply," said Brown. "Also, the county is just not set up to raise private dollars. That's increasingly going to be very important" to cover gaps in government funding, he said.

The new organization would be led by a paid executive director, and have a small staff and board of directors consisting of members of the public and private sectors, including churches, foundations and housing agencies, according to materials to be presented Tuesday to the supervisors. The group would work to secure funding to be distributed to more than 30 service providers and housing programs.

Leo McFarland, president and chief executive officer of Volunteers of America, one of the area's largest homeless services programs, said he supports the proposed changes even though the time frame seems dizzyingly short.

"I can't quite get my arms around exactly what it would look like, and I'm not sure it can be done at the speed at which the county would like," McFarland said. "If the county was not in a fiscal crisis, it would be a pipe dream.

"But the fact is that this is the way business is going to have to be conducted. We're going to have to do more with less, and nonprofits can do that because we can be more creative and flexible than the government."

McFarland said he expects some rocky times during the transition.

"But even if we stumble through it, I think it's going in the right direction."

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Call The Bee's Cynthia Hubert, (916) 321-1082.

Comment: Homeless domestic refugees needs a variety of social services that are not easily met. The County and shelter system must do a lot more than warehouse people who are homeless. This whole article forgets to include and incorporate homeless people themselves for their analyzes since they are most impacted by themselves being homeless. Duhh!

Many of our homeless who have fallen upon bad times are aware of the nature of their situation, many are highly intelligent and are stigmatized by society because they are homeless. There needs to be a lot more community education among the homeless and broader public education about who homeless people are, what their lives are like and what their common dessires are in life. Many people just have a negative stereotype about who the homeless are in these times of an undeclared Great Depression.

We may be surprised to find that all people want the survival basics of life: food, clothing, shelter, medical care and quality education.

Unidos Venceremos! United We Will Win!

PETER S. LOPEZ AKA: Peta-de-Aztlan
Sacramento, California
"An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come."
~ Victor Hugo

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